Confused and potentially criminal attempt by Australian local authority to protect wildlife from cat predation

The war against domestic and feral cats in Australia continues unabated. It looks like a war to me and in line with that analogy, the latest policy of a north-west Sydney council, Hornsby Shire, was cruel because it would have led to pointless and possibly illegal cat killing.

Australian council misguided in trying to protect wildlife from cats
Australian council misguided in trying to protect wildlife from cats. Image: MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

On my understanding, Hornsby Shire local authority wanted to seize any cat outside the home deemed to be feral by a veterinarian as judged by their appearance, behaviour and the lack of a microchip. And the seized cat was then to be euthanized (killed) immediately without any hold time to try and reunite the cat with their owner if there was one.

Comment: I’ve got to comment on that right away. This local authority wanted a local veterinarian to decide if someone’s pet cat which had escaped their home was feral because they looked a bit dirty and was frightened and also because they didn’t have a microchip. All three reasons are very dubious with a very clear chance of error.

Not everybody microchips their cat. It doesn’t mean that they are feral. A well-behaved domestic cat in their home might well turn into a wild and aggressive cat when trapped and confronted by a stranger. And any domestic cat who has been outside for a few days might look a little bit grubby for obvious reasons. It doesn’t mean that they are feral and should be killed.

Anyway, it is inhumane to simply kill feral cats. It is far more humane to operate TNR programs. But humane treatment of cats in Australia is not a priority.

The initial plan by Hornsby Shire to kill cats immediately after being seized has been overturned by a superior New South Wales law which mandated that they be held two weeks before euthanasia.

A spokeswoman for Hornsby Shire said that the forced amendment to their legislation was introduced without consultation and it has imposed additional costs on the council. And it may discourage trapping of feral cats.

Comment: you can see a battle raging here not just between people and cats but between people and people specifically legislators. They are undecided as to what to do about free roaming cats preying on vulnerable native species particularly small and endangered Australian mammals. They are very cute mammals I confess and they need to be protected but I don’t think this confused and brutal approach works.

The idea of trapping and killing outside cats on the basis of one veterinarian’s assessment is irrational and misguided. Eventually, rhey would have killed someone’s pet and if they did that it would’ve been criminal damage, a crime.

That, I would suggest, is why the New South Wales (NSW) government effectively amended this local authority’s ordnance. It was misguided. It was leading them into criminal behaviour.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a study commissioned by the NSW Office of Local Government found that cat containment was not a solution to the problems regarding the impounding and rehoming up cats. They also reported: “We note very mixed evidence about native wildlife impacts of domestic cats.”

Comment: that seems to state that there isn’t a clear, solid picture about cat predation on wildlife. There are many “estimates”. The word ‘estimate’ is important. Sarah Legge, the honorary Prof in Wildlife Conservation at the Australian National University said that feral and pet cats killed an estimated 1.7 billion native animals annually.

Do you know how they work that number out? They take small studies from certain areas in Australia and extrapolate (enlarge) the figures to make an estimate for the entire continent. This is going to be inaccurate. Further, Australians have no idea how many feral cats there are on their continent. So how can you work out the impact of feral and domestic cats on wildlife?

Legge, fortunately, did admit that habitat loss is one of the greatest threats and causes of population declines in native species. And once you destroy the habitat of a small native mammal it’s lost forever. When a cat kills an animal, it makes an impact on the overall population but it is not a permanent impact. There are many other human-created threats to Aussie wildlife. What about global warming to which Australia contributes with their coal mining. Global warming underpinned the recent catastrophic floods and fires killing 2 billion animals. That dwarfs cats’ impact.

The latest battle in this long-standing war in Australia referred to above tells us that Australian legislatures are struggling on how to protect wildlife from cat predation. They don’t know how to do it. They always end up killing cats as an act of frustration. Something similar happens in New Zealand where they have similar attitudes.

It’s entirely wrong, confused and irrational in my view. They have got to take a long-term view on this and operate nationwide TNR programs funded by local authorities on a massive scale within and near urban areas. I think the feral cats living in the outback are a lost cause. Do that and there be no complaints about animal cruelty. They would stabilise the feral and stray cat population and protect wildlife. The problem is that it is long-term and that does not suit humankind.

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